REFLECTIONS ON THE ROAD TO RESPECT is my complementary monthly e-newsletter. I started writing these articles in 2006 to support my clients in building a respectful workplace culture. You will find all of them posted here.
I love to write and am fortunate to get many opportunities to do so. You will find lots of valuable information in articles I have written for business focused publications.
Defining the Decade That Was
January 7, 2010
One of the questions I pondered with friends and family this holiday season was “how will this decade be remembered. What will the legacy of this decade be?” As this is something we only get to consider once every ten years it provoked some interesting discussion.
Among those I spoke to terrorism and technology – specifically wireless technology/ social networking, emerged as the top contenders for the defining phenomena of the decade which so recently ended.
Terrorism has greatly increased fear, hatred, divisiveness and conflict in our world. Rights, particularly human rights have been greatly affected and in many cases compromised, rescinded or disappeared outright. Technology, and particularly social media, facilitates relationship and connection. It creates a smaller and more cohesive world community. It is as if the events of this decade were simultaneously moving in two opposing directions.
I will never forget watching in horror as the twin towers fail. The first thing I said to my late husband was “the world as we know it has changed forever.” That cataclysmic event is what really shaped the decade for me. I grew up in a country of peace keepers. 9/11 changed that. For the first time in my life, my country, Canada, is at war. Canadian men and women, and most recently, a Canadian journalist, are dying in Afghanistan.
As someone committed to promoting peace and respectful relationships, this is a very disheartening reality. I recently watched a documentary on HBO about the “business of war”. Beyond those individuals that join the armed forces there are those who are hired to make war. One of these mercenaries made a comment that was both shocking and chilling. “War is a game. It is the ultimate game. Nothing can touch it.”
It is hard to remain optimistic in the face of some of the realities that this last decade has produced. It is hard to believe that we are moving to promote a better world for all of us. However, there is an old saying - it is always darkest before the dawn. As the new decade begins, I choose to believe in the possibility for positive change. I choose to tenaciously cling to my vision of a world where respect for all becomes the norm. I simply refuse to give up hope.
What about you?
Reframing the Notion of Work Life Balance
January 18, 2010
In the last few weeks I have been reading a lot of interesting factoids about both the year and the decade that just ended. One study reported that over 80% of women surveyed said they were busier than ever in 2009. Did that mean that they would be making resolutions to be less busy in 2010? Apparently not. In spite of an overwhelming interest in finding “work/life balance” most of those women said that they could not think of anything they would be able to let go of in the New Year.
As a widowed working mother of a 13 year old, I have been trying to achieve some sort of work life balance for years. Well, to be honest, I have been thinking about this elusive notion of work life balance when in fact, like the women surveyed, I find myself getting busier and busier. In the last year, I have become active on twitter, Facebook and Linked In, and started this blog as well as a vblog. My e-news went from a quarterly to a monthly publication. Those in the know say this type of activity is a must for “solopreneurs” like me.
While all this social networking adds considerably to my work load, I find I really like this new way of connecting with others and being able to reach a wider audience. The conclusion I came to when reading about those women was that I would be joining their ranks, as I couldn’t really think of much I could let go of. In fact, it is much easier for me to think of additional activities I would like to be doing, if only I could find the time.
But then I started to ask myself - what is the notion of “work/life balance” really about? Is it possible or even desirable to balance out work and life? What if, as in my case, your work is very much your life? Is being balanced really that desirable an aim? For me a big problem with this whole work life balance issue is that since I can never achieve it, it just becomes something else I can’t achieve - a potential source of stress, and honestly, who needs more stress.
As I thought about my goals for the new year and the new decade, I realized that I don’t necessarily want work/life balance. What I want is to enjoy what I am doing in my life. I want to spend the limited time I have on things that are meaningful to me. That is not about finding balance. That is about establishing priorities. It is about being clear on what is really important to me, being clear on what I want to be spending my time on. It is about identifying what I am currently doing that I don’t like doing, and then figuring out how to not do it any more.
Case in point – keeping my books. This is something that I can’t really let go of, in that it has to be done. However, while it has to be done, the question is whether or not I really need to be doing it.
The first day back in the office after the break I had to update my Quickbooks data file. This is something I absolutely hate doing. As I sat there on January 4th, I got grumpier and grumpier and pretty soon I heard myself saying things like I hate my work, I hate my job…all of which is patently untrue. I love my work. I love my job. I just don’t love all the parts of it, particularly those that involve data entry, administration and marketing. For years I have been using excuses like I can’t afford more help, I can’t find the right help, although in fact I only came to that erroneous conclusion because the right help was not found in the first person I hired and then I gave up.
It occurred to me that what I needed to do was get serious about finding help for those tasks that need to be done that I don’t like doing. I realized that establishing priorities would be a waste of time unless one of my priorities was to make sure I hire others to do the stuff that I don’t like doing. I had to get busy finding others to do my unwanted busy work.
You know how they say that when you ask for what you want, when you are aligned with your purpose, things just fall into place? Well, the very next day I had a meeting with Penny Deming, founder of SHEfinancial group inc. In the course of our conversation I talked about my bookkeeping dilemma, and wouldn’t you know it – she had someone great to recommend. A week later I have a new bookkeeper, and have freed up some precious time to do stuff I like, like writing this blog post.
I think we need to re-frame this whole notion of “work/life balance.” We all know that nothing in life actually maintains a state of balance, so why try for the impossible? Rather that looking for balance I think we should focus on making choices that ensure we are busily engaged with activities that are meaningful to us, that honor who we are.
I for one like being busy. I just want to be busy with things that have value to me, that are meaningful to me, and that are aligned with my purpose. That would, I realize, be a fundamentally respectful way to live, in that I would be supporting myself to succeed - exactly what I advise leaders to do to demonstrate respect to others.
So what about you? Are you supporting yourself for success? Have you prioritized what is really important to you? Why not bid farewell to the idea of work life balance and live an unbalanced life of meaning and purpose.
Tuning out Disrespect
January 26, 2010
One of the things I discuss in my book Road to Respect is how bad behavior is often tolerated within workplaces. Excuses are made. “Oh that is just (whomever). That is just how she/he is.” When nothing is done to deal with workplace disrespect, everyone soon accepts it as “just the way it is around here.”
As a result, bad behavior, disrespect becomes the norm. We hardly even notice it. It is like Muzak on an elevator. We tune it out.
This is a real problem. If we are tolerating disrespect, if we are tuning it out, then we are in fact contributing to it. We are supporting and condoning it.
Now, I understand how hard it is to stand up, to speak up to someone that is disrespectful, particularly when that person has power. But just because something is hard does not give us an excuse to avoid it. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the willingness to take action even though you are afraid.
Ideally, none of us should have to put up with bad behaviour at work. Reality is, however, that disrespect is becoming a fact of working life for increasing numbers of us. The flip side is that we all have a choice as to how we react to it.
Sure we can tune it out. We can make excuses. We can tolerate it.
Or we can make a different choice – an empowering choice that flows from a foundation of self-respect. We can take action. We can say something. We can choose to give others respectful feedback on their bad behavior. We can stand with those that are targeted. We can speak up about our right to work in a respectful and safe environment.
No one benefits when we choose to tolerate disrespect at work. It is time to stop tuning out. I think it is time to start speaking out.
What do you think?
Say What You Mean: Mean What You Say – Speak Up to Promote Respect
February 8, 2010
I had a great example recently of how one word, a unconscious slip of the tongue, the use of a habitual phrase can unintentionally offend.
I was traveling for work. I got off the plane and went to the rental car kiosk. The customer service agent got high marks for his pleasant, welcoming and efficient service. In no time I had the keys to my vehicle. He directed me to the car lot and advised me that “one of his guys” would help me out.
As I headed out to the lot, I was looking for both my car, and a male employee available to help. What I saw was a female employee who was helping another customer. She smiled and told me she would be right with me. There were no “guys” available anywhere.
Now, I know that it is easy enough to use the expression, “you guys” even when are talking to women. When I am facilitating or training, I often use that expression, however, I always advise my audiences that I am using that phrase in a gender neutral sense, and tell them that I do not mean to offend anyone.
Admittedly, I am hyper sensitive about ensuring that I am conscious of using language that will be respectful to everyone, particularly in a training session. That said, however, the fact is that all employers have a statutory legal obligation to ensure that their workplaces are free from discrimination. The only way for that to happen is for employees to be aware of what they are saying and doing, and ensuring that it is respectful.
Was this one comment discriminatory? No, unless it was part of an ongoing pattern. Was it offensive? Potentially yes. I was taken aback to see a female employee when I was expecting a male. I wondered why the agent had so specifically said “one of my guys."
Being who I am, I shared the agent’s comment with the young woman. She looked at me and said, “oh, is that what I am now.” And then she wanted to know who had made the comment. I could see it bothered her. I suggested to her that she might want to give her co-worker some feedback, framing my comment from a perspective that it may have been simply an unintended slip of the tongue.
In all likelihood that the customer service agent did not mean to be either discriminatory or offensive. I could have just let the comment pass and not spoken to the young woman. What do you think? Should we speak up or remain silent, particularly when, as in a case like this, we are not even directly involved.
I think you can guess where I would land on that issue. Just because someone is unaware of their behaviour, or the fact that they may have offended does not let either them or us off the hook. The fact that we are not directly involved is not an excuse. If we are really interested in promoting a more respectful workplace and society, we have to be prepared to walk the talk. We have to speak up. Staying silent really isn’t an option if we are interested in creating and supporting change.
I truly hope that this young woman went back and had a respectful conversation with her co-worker. I truly hope that her feedback will serve to awaken a new level of awareness in him about his choice of language. I hope that their relationship will be enhanced, not damaged by the conversation.
Of course I will never know what happened. But you know I have always loved a happy ending, and I see no reason to change now. Bottom line is that whatever choice she makes, I know I made the right choice in choosing to speak up to promote respect.
Confrontation or Conversation: What’s the Norm in Your Workplace?
In last month’s post, I featured an interview with values based top employer Nurse Next Door. Like other employers of choice I feature in Road to Respect, the workplace culture at Nurse Next Door empowers employees to speak up, to raise issues, to talk about problems and ask for help. Speaking up is a cultural norm that promotes organizational success.
Unfortunately, the cultural norm of speaking up experienced by the employees at Nurse Next Door is the exception rather than the rule. In most workplaces, employees routinely make the choice to put up and shut up. In cases of disrespectful behavior like harassment and bullying, a first incident typically turns into a pattern, one that has dire consequences for the individuals involved and their workplace. Productivity drops, absenteeism rises, teamwork and service delivery degenerate.
Research shows that individuals on the receiving end of disrespect at work spend up to 50% of their time on the job dealing with the effects of the disrespectful behavior. New ideas, creativity and innovation are stifled by the fear that disrespect spawns. Math may not be my strong suit, but it is fairly obvious that if employees are spending almost half their time focused on something other than the job that they are being paid to do, that is a serious business problem.
To prevent this outcome, employees must be empowered to speak up, to give respectful feedback when they have concerns, problems or are experiencing disrespectful behavior at work. In a respectful workplace culture, speaking up is the status quo, “the way it is around here.”
To support clients interested in developing this norm I offer a presentation called Speak Up Speak Out: Personal Power and Respect in the Workplace, designed to equip employees to be able to express themselves respectfully at work. While of course most of us know how to communicate, very few of us know how to communicate effectively and respectfully, particularly in a conflict situation. We talk about the reasons we don’t speak up: cultural norms, fear, power and the communication skill gap. I share some simple communication models which provide a framework to allow employees to speak up with respect.
After reviewing the models I always ask participants what they think of them. More often that I would care to remember, someone inevitably says that while the models seem great, they don’t know if they would use them. When I ask why not I hear a variation of “ I hate confrontation.”
What I interpret that to mean is that confrontation, rather than conversation, is the cultural norm in their workplace. Their experience is that giving feedback, speaking up, means a confrontation. And let’s face it, most of us will go to great lengths to avoid confrontation. As a result, issues that are interfering with an individual’s ability to do their job well, to achieve their full potential and contribute to the success of the business are not being dealt with. That silence is slowing killing any chance for top employer status.
Companies looking to emulate the success of Nurse Next Door and other employers of choice must create workplace cultures where speaking up becomes a cultural norm. To respond to market demands and the ever increasing pace of change which is the new organizational reality, companies need to have adaptable, responsive cultures, where employees are empowered and able to speak up and speak out to those they work with as well as those they report to.
A foundation of respectful conversation builds cohesive and productive teams and businesses. It promotes creativity and continuous improvement while ensuring that disrespectful behaviors are not going unreported and bleeding away productivity and profitability. To avoid the dreaded confrontation, conversation - the willingness to listen, consider divergent perspectives, give feedback and engage in respectful dialogue with others should become the norm for all employees at work.
What is the experience of employees in your workplace when they speak up? Is the norm conversation or confrontation? Are you willing to risk not knowing the answer to that question?
Respect, Support and Business Success
March 16, 2010
“The glass ceiling will go away when women help other women break through that ceiling.”
CEO, PepsiCo. Ltd
I came across the quote above recently and it got me thinking about the factors that contribute to success - specifically the relationship between support and success. While many of us might agree with the theoretical notion that employees that are supported do better than those that don’t, how many organizations recognize and acknowledge the relationship between support and bottom line success in business? How many organizations make strategic decisions to ensure that supporting others for success becomes a cultural norm?
In my experience, not many. Ms. Nooyi’s business philosophy of creating a workplace community at PepsiCo where employees feel valued and supported to succeed is still very much the exception rather than the rule. However, if Pepsico’s recently released results are any indication, this is an idea whose time has come.
The traditional business model flows from the foundation of competitive capitalism. It is fundamentally a win/lose model, which is focused on the individual. I am focused on my success. I use power to support my success. I do whatever it takes to get to the top, regardless of who or what I might destroy along the way. Once I am there, I use my power to make sure I stay there. More for me means less for you and vice versa. A decision to support others will be detrimental to my success.
I am not alone in concluding that this is a business model that has outlived its usefulness. We have only to look at the recent global economic meltdown to see the effects of competitive capitalism run amuck. Promoting one’s own interest at the expense of others does not promote long term success. Innovative business leaders, Ms. Nooyi among them, are adopting new business models, values based models, and many are shifting from competitive capitalism to conscious capitalism.
Conscious capitalism is capitalism that recognizes the power of purpose and the principle of interdependence. It is a business model that shares the philosophy of Me to We, the movement started by Canadian Craig Kielburger – the notion that our own lives improve when we focus on improving the lives of others.
This is a fundamentally respectful business model, one that requires a shift in the way we think about and manifest power in organizations. It is about consciously using our power to support and empower others, a core principle of respectful leadership I describe in Road to Respect.
When we work together in a respectful, open and supportive environment, we can access our collective power to conquer challenges and problems, to break through the “glass ceiling” that may be holding us back. Ms. Nooyi’s respectful leadership style is intended to create a cohesive community of employees and leaders that are willing and interested in working collaboratively and supporting each other to achieve business success. If that is a goal to which your business aspires, start the shift to a respectful workplace culture where the relationship between support and success is recognized and nurtured.
To Blog or Not to Blog?
April 12, 2010
Forgive me readers, for I have not blogged - it has been 2 months since my last post.
Even though I am not Catholic, and I don’t personally hold much stock in the concept of sin, I want to use this post to confess to those of you who had been following this blog as to why I stopped writing.
It is not like I didn’t think about writing. Nor is it because nothing occurred that I wanted to write about. On the contrary, I think about writing all the time, I have a list of topics that I want to blog about. I really like blogging.
The problem is I have not found the time to translate my intention to action.
Now I know some of you might be thinking, oh that is a convenient excuse. I mean come on, we are all busy. And you would be right, we all are. And herein, from my perspective, lies the source of the problem.
I started this blog in February 2009, right around the time I became active on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. Twitter soon became my social connection medium of choice. I told the colleague that got me started that I was going to have to attend Twitterholics anonymous to help me cope with my addiction to Twitter!
In addition to Twitter, I got into blogging. While I also have a monthly e-newsletter, that publication focuses on providing practical and useful information to support my clients in respectful culture building. This blog allows me more freedom to write about my passions from a broader perspective.
2009 was a very successful year for me in terms of social media and networking. The same cannot be said with respect to revenue generation from client work. Like many other consultants and speakers, I got hit pretty hard from recessionary budget cutbacks.
As a result, I had lots of time to spend blogging and tweeting. I would often comment about the amount of time I was spending on social media to colleagues when we talked about what we were up to. I questioned about how I might be able to manage when things picked up again.
Happily from the perspective of my bank balance, I now know the answer to that question. I am not able to manage. As work started to pick up in the fall of 2009 the amount of time I had to spend on social media and networking decreased.
That gets us back to this issue of busyness, a subject I blogged about in January (Reframing the Notion of Work Life Balance). I was speaking to a female friend over the weekend who advised me that she now has 2 and a half full time jobs. When I asked how she was going to manage she looked at me and said – well, I can do it if I give up sleeping. I should clarify that she meant 2 and a half actual paid jobs. She did not even bother to factor in her full time job as wife and mother to 2 kids, one of whom is under the age of 5.
Now of course she was only joking but in all seriousness, where are we supposed to find the time to do all of this stuff? I don’t know about you but I could spend all day on emails, because let’s face it, if we want to respond that means we have to at least look and figure out which ones we have to respond to. And yes, I use the organizational tools in Outlook; emails go to a variety of sub folders and I prioritize which ones I need to look at but is not like they are not there. It is not like there are not more coming in every day.
Our whole notion of taking time off has been drastically altered. What does taking time off really mean? Do you turn off your computer or your blackberry on weekends? In the evenings? On holidays? When I was a kid, Sundays were days off. Stores were closed. There was no internet. Heck, we didn’t even have answering machines.
Let me be clear here. I am not arguing against technology and for the good old days. There were no human rights laws back then either. But just as I advocate the importance of talking about how all this change is affecting us in the workplace, I feel we might want to be a bit more proactive and less reactive and start talking about how we are going to progress in the face of all this progress. More and more of us are forgoing holidays, break time, weekends in favor of work, and for many of us, fear is what is motivating us to keep going. Fear of being left behind. Fear of not keeping up.
I read somewhere last week that studies show that middle aged women who don’t take holidays are much more likely to have a heart attack than those that do. An increasing number of such women, myself included (much as I am loathe to admit that I am middle aged in a culture that idolizes youth), have given up on holidays. We simply don’t have time, can’t afford them, or both. And when we do take them, the blackberry comes with us.
I did a vision board in January, and while success figures prominently as a theme, having a heart attack is not something I aspire to. That is one reason I make sure to take time to exercise every day. I have not given up exercise over the last couple of months. That is something I simply refuse to do. Let’s face it, death would seriously interfere with my ability to keep blogging.
I do want to keep blogging. I are committed to figuring out how to do that on top of doing the client work in my business, working on my business, being a single parent, taking care of my home, my daughter, my dog, birds, fish and myself. Oh, and I was thinking about maybe having a social life as well.
How? At this point, I have no idea. Do you?
Pink Shirt Day – Standing Together to End Bullying
April 14, 2010
Today, April 14th is Pink Shirt Day in BC. Started three years ago by Vancouver radio personality Christy Clark, Pink Shirt Day Serves to raise awareness about bullying in schools, workplaces, homes and over the internet.
Ms. Clark took her cue from the actions of two teenage students in Nova Scotia who took a stand against bullies in their school. When a Grade 8 student was called names and threatened for wearing pink, Grade 12 students David Shepherd and Travis Price, decided enough was enough. They went to a nearby discount store, bought 50 pink shirts, and spread the word online about their idea to wear pink in support of the student and to take a stand against the bullies.
The next day hundreds of students showed up in pink clothing. Not only did that put an end to the bullying in their school, but a movement, which now has worldwide momentum, was born.
Unfortunately that momentum has not been enough to put an end to bullying. We recently witnessed the tragic deaths of 15 year old Phoebe Prince, and 13 year old Jon Carmichael, two high school students in the US, both of whom committed suicide due to bullying at school.
Why hasn’t growing awareness led to real change? Well, change means someone needs to step up to the plate. Someone needs to be prepared to be accountable and hold other accountable. And that is not yet happening, either in our schools or our workplaces.
The administration at Phoebe Prince’s school knew what was going on. The bullying she suffered was witnessed by other students and by teachers. Even when those teachers told the administration, not enough was done.
Oh, they did the easy stuff. They called world renowned bullying expert Barbara Coloroso, who told them precisely what they needed to do. But hey, no one likes to stand up to bullies, whether they are in a school or at a workplace. And so, the bullying continued, resulting in Phoebe’s death, and now, criminal charges against the perpetrators.
As we have seen within the human rights framework, one of the ways we can begin to initiate real change in our society is by enacting legislation. That is the aim BullyFreeBC, a group which I am involved in. BullyFreeBC is a coalition of organizations, practitioners, and individuals who want to eradicate bullying in our society.
Legislation is often what is needed to get those in positions of power to do take action to create safe and respectful environments for those they lead. To get legislation passed here in BC, we need to have a groundswell of public support.
We have chosen today, Pink Shirt Day, as the official launch of our campaign to get BC to follow the lead of other provinces in Canada that have passed anti-bullying laws which empower employees so that they can stand up and say no to workplace bullying.
If we are going to make this vision a reality, we need your support. Why not make today the day you join the ranks of those that are standing up to end bullying? Join us at www.BullyFreeBC.ca. Together we can make BC Bully Free.
Was Machiavelli Right – Does Absolute Power Corrupt Absolutely?
April 23, 2010
I spend a lot of my time talking and writing about the relationship between power and respect at work. Disrespectful behaviors like harassment and bullying are power based behaviors. The choice to engage in these behaviors and how we respond to them is very much connected to power – how much we have and how we choose to use it.
I once had a participant in a workshop approach me about how to deal with a bullying boss, who also happened to be the CEO. She had already tried to talk to him about his behavior, but he wasn’t interested in either listening or changing. She wanted to know what she should do.
Now I really am someone that likes to find the silver lining in the cloud, but my advice to her was “Look for another job.” The fact is that in most cases the CEO holds ultimate power. Unless there is a Board that can hold that CEO accountable, it is virtually impossible for an employee to get a CEO that bullies to stop. He/she has the power, and at work, power is often the trump card in relationships.
As I discuss in Road to Respect, the intention of human rights laws is to equalize a historical power imbalance. Human rights laws empower employees to stand up and speak out about workplace discrimination and harassment. Without such legislation, as is currently the case with respect to workplace bullying in BC, the balance of power will remain skewed The more power a “boss” has, the harder it will be for anyone to hold them accountable.
This fact was reinforced for me in a rather chilling manner recently during the April 9th episode of the CBC investigative series the Fifth Estate. “Larger than Life” profiled Canadian fashion icon Peter Nygard. “He’s rich, he’s powerful. Larger than Life. But what kind of boss is Peter Nygard?” was the question posed in the broadcast.
According to former employees interviewed for the program, including the previous Director of Human Resources, Mr. Nygard is alleged to be the kind of boss that most of us would like to avoid – someone that allegedly engages in disrespectful behavior including sexual harassment and workplace bullying.
Whatever the truth with respect to these allegations, a fact that is undeniable is that when it comes to power, Peter Nygard has a gargantuan amount. He has positional power, economic power, power of knowledge, and power of association. To put it is Machiavellian terms, in his workplaces his power is absolute. If he wanted to bully and harass, it would be very hard for anyone to stop him, particularly any of his employees.
Unless, of course, they were able to file a complaint about it, as is now the case for Nygard employees working in Ontario. Bill 168 comes into effect this June which will make it “illegal” for employers to engage in, or ignore, workplace bullying, a fact that was noted the CBC in the broadcast. They also mentioned that New York, where Nygard has just opened a new flagship store, has similar legislation pending.
April 14 was Pink Shirt day here in BC, intended to raise awareness about the prevalence and the cost, both human and economic, of bullying. It was also the official launch of BullyFreeBC.ca, a coalition of organizations, practitioners, and individuals who want to eradicate bullying in our society.
While legislation on its own won’t end workplace bullying, it will certainly do a lot to empower employees and force those in positions of power to examine and modify their own behavior and leadership styles.
While I don’t support the use of force, I must concur with another well known pacifist, Nelson Mandela, who said
“When those in power deny your freedom, the only path to freedom is power.”
Arizona - Land of the Not so Free
April 28, 2010
Like many of you, I was shocked to hear about the passage of legislation in Arizona which empowers, and actually requires police to stop individuals to determine if they are in the US illegally.
The criteria the police are to use when deciding who to stop is reasonable suspicion. What will trigger that reasonable suspicion is a characteristic that is currently a protected ground in human and civil rights law - race. If someone looks like they might be an illegal immigrant, the police have to stop them and ask for their papers. Since most of these allegedly illegal immigrants are Latino, this means that Latinos in Arizona are being subjected to racial profiling.
This law is a blatant expression of racism, bigotry and hatred, disguised as a mechanism to deal with the problem of illegal immigration in Arizona. This development highlights just how fragile and tenuous our recently adopted human and civil rights really are in society.
I say recently because let’s face it, nobody even started talking about human rights until after the atrocities and genocide of the second world war. A half century is a mere blink in the context of thousands of years of racism and discrimination in human history.
As we witness girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan being poisoned and terrorized to keep them from getting an education, this development in a country founded on freedom and liberty for all is particularly disheartening and frightening.
If the principals of liberty and equality are to be preserved and enhanced, we must stand with, and take action to empower those who traditionally have had no power.
We must all speak up loudly to preserve a society that enshrines and respects our fundamental human and civil rights. The alternative is simply too frightening to contemplate.
Eat Like a Canadian Eh!
I have lived in Canada my whole life. I have lived in different cities and communities in three different provinces and eaten in a myriad of different environments. I must say that until recently I was not aware that there was a Canadian way of eating.
In 2006 seven year old Luc Cagadoc was eating lunch in the hallway of his school, breaking up his food with a fork and sliding it on to his spoon in the traditional Philippine way of eating. The hall monitor approached him and told him to stop eating that way, to use a knife and fork and eat like everyone else.
Luc went home and told his Mom what had happened. When she followed up the hall monitor is alleged to have told her that her son ate like a pig, while the Principal is alleged to have said that Luc should eat like a Canadian.
I am wondering precisely when we developed a manner of eating that defines us as Canadians. I find it particularly intriguing that this case arose in Quebec, a province that has spent considerable time and money arguing that it is a distinct society. Apparently, that does not hold when it comes to table manners.
Happily for Luc, his mother was prepared to stand up for her rights as a Canadian. She filed a human rights complaint, alleging that her son had been discriminated against by the school board and the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal agreed with her.
In previous posts I have blogged about the importance of laws as a vehicle to empower us. If our Canadian charter values of tolerance, fairness, justice and respect are to be more than nice words on a paper, we must to have laws that enable us to speak up when those values are not being demonstrated, as was the case with Luc. We need laws to force those that do not want to be tolerant and respectful, particularly those in positions of power, to do so.
While we do not yet have laws in place to deal with workplace bullying, we do currently have human rights laws in every jurisdiction in Canada which protect us from discrimination and discriminatory harassment. We should not become complacent however. While we are not yet going down the road of lawmakers in Arizona, we need to be vigilant to ensure we maintain and expand our laws that require respectful treatment. It is important to realize that our rights are easily undermined and could one day disappear. We should not take them for granted, particularly in the current political climate.
Human rights commissions and tribunals are under attack in this country. The Canadian Human Rights commission is closing 3 regional offices. The Government of Saskatchewan is considering closing down the Saskatchewan human rights tribunal and sending complaints instead to the provincial courts.
Why is this happening? Consider this statement, made in 1999 by our current Prime Minister when he was the head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “Human rights commissions, as they are evolving, are an attack on our fundamental freedoms and the basic existence of a democratic society…It is in fact totalitarianism. I find this is very scary stuff.”
I don’t know about you but that statement strikes me as scary, very scary in fact. What fundamental freedoms was Mr. Harper referring to? The freedom to impose our beliefs, our views and our perspectives on others? The freedom to mock and ridicule a 7 year old boy eating lunch at a public school?
From where I sit, that is the kind of rhetoric I would expect to hear from the “tea baggers” south of the border, not from an individual who has become our head of state, someone who is supposed to be upholding and modeling our charter values.
What about you?
Quashing the bloom of respect at Little Flower Academy
In 1984, just as our modern day human rights framework was emerging in Canada, a case called Caldwell vs. St. Thomas Aquinas high school was heard at the Supreme Court of Canada. The case involved the firing of a teacher as a result of her marrying a divorced man in a civil ceremony. The Court supported the high school’s actions and upheld the notion that a non-profit religious institution can give preference to the group that they are intended to serve.
That case paved the way for Catholic schools to in effect, dictate the morality of those they employ, even those that are not Catholic. Employees in Catholic institutions, including those like Little Flower Academy which receive public funding, sign contracts that oblige them to live the Church’s values. Music teacher Lisa Reimer signed such a document obliging her to "demonstrate a respectful and sympathetic sensitivity to the aims and nature of the school and to the Catholic beliefs and practices of the school."
Apparently parents complained to the school when they learned that Ms. Reimer was taking time off to be with her same sex partner during the birth of their child. This of course would not be an issue if Ms. Reimer was employed within the public school system or if Ms. Reimer was a man taking time off to be with his wife. The problem is that Ms. Reimer’s sexual orientation is allegedly at odds with Catholic morality and values.
Now, I don’t know about you, but these days one really has a right to ask, actually I would argue one has a moral obligation to ask whether or not the Catholic Church is in a position to dictate either values or morality to anyone. What particular beliefs and practices are they referring to? Where was respect or sympathetic sensitivity to the needs of the thousands of children we now know have been molested by those who hold power within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church? Where was the respect of sympathetic sensitivity to generations of First Nations children and their families who were both physically and psychologically abused by priests and nuns in residential schools?
I tell you who I feel really concerned for in this whole issue. It is not Ms. Reimer, who will be able to return to the public school system and enjoy the freedom from discrimination which is supposed to be ours by right as Canadian citizens. I feel for the young women who attend Little Flower Academy who might be thinking that Ms. Reimer’s lifestyle would suit them just fine. The message they are getting in all of this loud and clear. They are sinners. They are bad. They won’t be able to be true to themselves and be active members of the Catholic Church.
Where is the respect and sympathetic sensitivity for those girls? It does not appear to be blossoming at Little Flower Academy.
How North Shore Credit Union is “Getting Respect Right”
May 18, 2010
Chapter 2 of my book Road to Respect is entitled “Do You Know Where Your Culture Is?”
I have no doubt that knowing the answer to that question is critical for success in business today. Workplace culture is the personality of an organization. It is the answer you get when you ask an employee “ So what’s it like to work around here?”
Think about that for a minute. What would you want your employees to say? How would you like them to describe your workplace?
Think about how it might impact your business results if the answer included thing like “great, the most welcoming environment I’ve ever worked in, supportive, friendly, really made me feel like part of the team.”
That is precisely what I heard recently during a getting to know you coffee with Michele Villeneuve, currently Area Manager, Western Canada, IWCC Training. Michele, who also works as a independent consultant, told me about a year long project she had just completed with North Shore Credit Union.
At the mention of that organization my ears perked up a bit. A number of years ago I worked with the Credit Union to develop a Respectful Workplace Policy and Guideline. While I very much enjoyed working with them, what really matters to me is how my work is going to impact the employees and the workplace culture.
As I discuss in Road to Respect, building a respectful workplace culture is not about adopting a paper strategy. It is about the willingness of those in leadership to really walk the talk, to take action to ensure that the policy serves as a foundation for a truly respectful, values driven culture.
Apparently, that willingness is thriving among the leaders at NSCU. Michele had nothing but positive things to say about her experience working with North Shore Credit Union. Although she was not an employee, she was immediately welcomed and made to feel like part of the team. She described an environment where employees were engaged and passionate, working together in a supportive environment, committed to producing superior results. To top it off she even used the word respectful to describe the workplace culture.
I left that meeting elated. I love to hear stories of companies, particularly those I have worked with, that are getting respect right! Wow, I thought as I made my way back to the subway, you simply can’t buy such great PR.
You can, however, create it. You can ensure that what I heard from Michele becomes a workplace norm when you do what they have done at North Shore Credit Union– be deliberate and strategic about creating a workplace where employees feel respected and valued.
To find out what they were doing to create such an environment at North Shore Credit Union I sat down with Marni Johnson, Vice President of Human Resources and Communications at NSCU. You can access the entire interview here http://www.ericajpinskyinc.ca/test/EricaPInsky/Podcast/Entries/2010/4/8_North_Shore_Credit_Union.html (include link)
As I was packing up after the interview, I mentioned Nurse Next Door, a local employer of choice I featured in my January post to Ms. Johnson. Given NSCU’s high engagement scores, employee retention and respectful culture I asked how it was that they had not chosen to participate in any of the employer of choice surveys so that their winning employment practices could get some public recognition.
Ms. Johnson’s reply confirmed for me the fundamentally respectful nature of the workplace culture at NSCU. They had considered participating in employer of choice surveys and for a while had done so, she advised me. However, they decided that there is other, more critical information that they need from their employees and they don’t want to over-survey their employees. They decided not to pursue formal recognition as an employer of choice through a non-customizable employee survey.
Hmmm… putting employees needs first. Clearly NSCU is an organization that is “getting respect right”.
Respecting my Right to Grieve
May 26, 2010
Eight years ago today I was working in my basemen office when the palliative care nurse that was on shift called me upstairs. She wanted me to help her as she tended to my husband David. She asked me to hold his head, which I did, and to speak to him, just tell him whatever, which I also did.
As I looked down at his face, I saw that his breathing was slowing. Then I noticed that the pulse on his neck had stopped. I looked up and told the nurse. “ I know.“ she said. I realized then that she had called me up specifically so that I could be with David when he died.
You’d think that after eight years I’d be over this already. You’d think that after eight years I would have been through the 4 stages of grief numerous times. But today I am sobbing as I write this. The pain of the grief and loss seems just as deep and fresh today as it did on that morning eight years ago.
I really want to “get over this.” People were asking me if I was “over it” mere months after David died. I will never forget a male friend asking me if I had started dating after David had been dead for two months. Death is so scary, so frightening, particularly when it is unexpected and the person who dies is young, we all want to believe that we can and will get over it.
On days like today however, I am once again painfully reminded that I have not gotten over it and will never get over it. I have learned to accept it. I have learned to live my life without David. I have learned how to cope with being a single parent running my own business. I have learned to foster an attitude of gratitude and to consciously promote a mental attitude that is positive and optimistic most of the time. I have also learned to respect the fact that grief, like so much else in life, is not a static process but an evolving one. Eight years later, this grief is part of who I am.
I hate feeling sad and unhappy. I hate thinking about that day that David died. I remember so clearly getting into my car and driving to pick up my 5 year old from kindergarten right after he died, feeling so angry I wanted to kill someone. I hate thinking about all of the horrible, dark, bleak memories that I have of David’s illness, his death and the black hole of grief that swallowed me immediately afterwards. I still hate the fact that I am widowed and that I am without the person I chose as my life partner.
The well of sadness I have inside me is not yet empty. On days like this it rises up and overflows. I used to try and ignore it, stuff it back down because I did not want to feel the pain. But I have learned that the pain does not go away. It sometimes appears as anger, frustration, physical pain or exhaustion.
I know David would not want me to be sad but I feel sad nonetheless. After eight years I have learned that I must respect the depth of my grief, I must acknowledge it when it manifests. It doesn’t indicate that anything is wrong. Grief is part of my life. I may not have chosen it, I may not want it, but it is, for the moment, my reality. It is just what is.
“Delivering Happiness” through Respect
June 21, 2010
Those of you that read this blog regularly may recall my July 2009 post which focused on Zappos, online retailer whose bottom line sales grew from “almost nothing” in 1999 to over $1 billion in 2008.
CEO Tony Hsieh is very clear about what has contributed to Zappos spectacular success - it’s their values based culture. Zappos’ story clearly supports the main theme of my book Road to Respect: Path to Profit - that developing and living a strategic, values based workplace culture is a key ingredient to business success in today’s highly diverse, rapidly changing, multi-cultural business environment.
Turns out that culture can do more than produce great products, customer service and profitability. It can also become a product in and of itself. Consistent with its core value Embrace and Drive Change, Zappos culture has become its latest product with the launch of Insights 2.0, a membership site for companies that want to emulate Zappos winning culture in their workplaces.
Insights 2.0 is in effect a “culture school”. Members can experience Zappos culture on site, have access to Zappos leaders, participate in training, and have the opportunity to join a community of individuals all of whom are interested in building a better business through culture change.
Zappos “culture school” launched just prior to the release of Tony Hsieh’s new book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. (Now that title has a familiar ring to it.) Currently #1 on the New York Times bestseller list as well as Wall Street Journal’s bestselling book list, the core message of the book is simple – happiness is an essential ingredient for success in life and success in business. According to Hsieh, it is not only about your own happiness, but about creating happiness for others, becoming a Happiness Leader as Tony is at Zappos where Create Fun is a core cultural value.
I completely agree with Tony‘s perspective on happiness. One of my goals in my work is to create workplaces where employees will be happier. However, I don’t spend a lot of time talking about happiness.
I spend my time talking and writing about respect because I know that without respect, there can be no true happiness in a workplace.
I have yet to meet someone that is on the receiving end of bullying or harassment that is happy. I have yet to encounter employees working in toxic, disrespectful environments that are happy. I have worked with numerous individuals that engage in power based disrespectful behaviours like bullying and harassment, and none of them are happy either.
After I wrote that piece on Zappos last year I heard from Derek Flores from “Tony’s team.” He thanked me for comparing Zappos to respectful values based employers of choice like Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. “Although we don't display respect within our core values or display the word around the office” he wrote,” respect is definitely an underlying message. We are all respectful to our co workers and our customers and we do it in a fun customer service driven way!”
I was really excited when I learned about Zappos culture school. I do this work because I want to see change, real change happen in our workplaces and hey, I’m only one person. I appreciate my power to achieve my vision from a global perspective is somewhat limited.
The same cannot be said about Tony Hsieh and Zappos however.
You know that old expression “money is power.” Well Zappos is making tons of money and that is causing a lot of people, including those in positions of power, to sit up and take notice. It is causing a lot of senior leaders to become interested in the idea of culture change, change that will result in more respectful workplaces.
And I for one am very happy about that.
Multiculturalism, Morals and Murder
June 22, 2010
Aqsa Parvez wanted to be like every other Canadian teenager. She wanted to hang out with her friends, go to movies, get a part time job and wear stylish clothes. Beyond that she wanted a few things that most Canadians believe is our right – a door to her bedroom and the ability to choose who she married. Aqsa wanted privacy, independence and freedom.
Because she was willing to speak up and say this was what she wanted, she was murdered. She was murdered in cold blood by her father and one of her brothers. According to her Mother’s testimony such honour killings are “common “in Pakistan, their country of origin. And unless we in Canada are careful, we risk allowing such atrocities to become common here, hidden behind the veil of multiculturalism and tolerance.
On Wednesday, June 16, Aqsa’s father and brother, who pleaded guilty to second degree murder, received sentences of life imprisonment without parole for at least 18 years. Mr. Justice Bruce Durno said he hoped that this sentence would act to deter anyone else in Canada from believing that multiculturalism means the ability to hang onto cultural practices that promote murder in order to maintain community status.
For Aqsa’s father, his daughter’s interest in independence, her refusal to wear a hajib and to submit to his will was a sin worth killing her for. After he strangled her on her bed he told her Mother “My community will say you have not been able to control your daughter. This is my insult. She is making me naked.”
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney referred to this act as a barbaric cultural practice, like female genital mutilation which is spreading beyond the third world and happening to little girls on kitchen tables in Europe and North America. “We want to underscore that multiculturalism is not an excuse, or a moral or legal justification, for such barbaric practices. Multiculturalism does not equal cultural relativism.”
Respect and dignity for all is the foundation of human rights. We pride ourselves in Canada in being a multi-cultural country, founded on the values of tolerance, fairness, justice and mutual respect. But we must be clear that such tolerance does not include tolerance for practices that deny individuals their rights, in particular their most basic human right, their right to life. Nor does it include tolerance for the practices that deny individuals their right for equality as we define it in Canada. We have to be clear that for anyone coming to Canada, this is not negotiable.
Multiculturalism does not mean accepting any practice that a culture claims as its own. Tolerance does not mean that there is no longer right and wrong. Murder is wrong. Murdering your own child because she refuses to submit to feudal practices is beyond wrong. It is abhorrent. It is morally repugnant. There can simply be no justification for such a crime in a civilized society.
Asqu’s father said “In Canada women are able to open their mouths because they have rights, but if that same woman was in Pakistan, she don’t dare open her mouth.”
Ladies, take heed. This horrific case is a chilling reminder of why we need to keep opening our mouths and shout out loudly to protect and promote our rights to be treated with dignity and respect.
The Harm in the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST)
July 13, 2010
July 1 marked more than Canada Day for those Canadians living in Ontario and BC this year. It also heralded the imposition of the new HST – harmonized sales tax.
Here in BC the party line was that the HST would be good for us. It would create jobs, save money. We would barely notice it because it was really just a combination of two taxes we were already paying, the GST and PST. (For those of you in the lower 48, GST is a federal tax while PST is a provincial tax, like state taxes in the US.)
One sector that starting complaining as soon as the new tax was proposed was the restaurant industry. As PST was not charged on restaurant meals, the HST meant that restaurant customers would be paying an additional 7% every time they went out to eat. That in itself was a concern to me.
Former Provincial Premier Bill Vander Zalm started a campaign to challenge the government’s plan to adopt the HST, not because eating out was going to get more expensive, but because the Liberal government had promised not to adopt this tax during the last election. That fact in itself was enough to get me to sign one of the petitions aimed at ensuring that this initiative got the required 10% of all voters needed to launch an official challenge. While I was, of course, steamed that I was going to have to pay more every time I went out to eat, it was the duplicity, the blatant abuse of power by the Liberal government that really encouraged me to lend my support to the protest. There is a democratic principal here, as well as a moral issue, flowing from values like ethics, honesty, and respect for the electorate.
Ten days into this new tax and now I can really see the extent of the information that has not really been shared with those of us that foot the bill for the over indulgent spending habits of our governments. I am experiencing firsthand the harm that this tax will create.
While I knew that I was going to have to start charging my clients HST, I didn’t really understand how many other businesses like mine had been exempted from charging PST. Health professionals like chiropractors, massage therapists, physiotherapists now have to charge an additional 7%. I discovered that I now have to pay an additional 7% for my ballroom dance classes, and any other recreational pursuit I might undertake. All of my daughters sports activities, all of her summer camps cost 7% more. The soy milk I drink because I don’t tolerate dairy is now 7% more expensive, as are a whole host of other foods that are now classified as snacks and therefore subject to HST. How is soy milk a snack when regular milk isn’t?
House prices in BC, already the highest in the country have just gotten a whole lot higher. The average price for a home in Vancouver, and that is often a tear down, is a million dollars, now plus 7%. You do the math.
It won’t be big business that feels the effect of this tax. It won’t be the makers of snack foods. It will the solopreneur offering health services, arts or sports activities that will feel it, because those are precisely the kinds of things that people will be forced to cut down on. Proactive stuff that is good for our health, both physical and emotional.
Oh sure, everyone in Europe pays 15% tax, but they get a lot more in terms of social services. What concerns me is that we are paying more and getting less. This government has cut programs for workers, women and children and for persons with disabilities to name just a few - those in our province that most need the support of government and who have no voice or power with which to express themselves. Overhauls to the employment standards legislation were designed to allow industry to self regulate. Hello? Who came up with that brilliant idea? What experience caused anyone to think that businesses would treat employees properly, pay them overtime, make sure they got enough vacation, simply because they wanted to be fair? Every legal aid office outside of metro Vancouver has been closed. This means women and children that are subjected to domestic abuse and violence will just have to put up with it. To balance the budget public schools will be closed an additional ten days a year, so that working parents now have more to juggle. That should do a lot to help ever increasing stress levels. Oh wait – those parents can put their kids in some program for the day that they will have to pay 7% more for.
At this point I see a lot more harm than harmony resulting from the HST. I don’t really have a lot of faith in government doing anything to clean up inefficiencies and waste in their own backyard. Why bother when it is so easy to impose a tax that means that most of us will have less disposable income at the end of the day.
Whether or not the tax is revoked I am glad that I signed a petition that provided an opportunity for me as a citizen in a democratic society to exercise my right to say no. For me this is about sending a message. Just because you have power does not mean you can do anything you want.
Let’s hope that the harm in the HST will allow enough people to appreciate whose interests this government really represents.
Ayaan Hirsli Ali – A Woman with the Courage to Speak Up
July 22, 2010
I am en route, flying home after delivering Speak Up: Speak Out – Personal Power and Respect in the Workplace, one of most popular presentations I developed after publishing Road to Respect last year.
Speak Up: Speak out is intended to empower employees to speak up about disrespect at work. I make the case in Road to Respect that disrespect is a non-issue when workplace leaders make a strategic decision to build a values based culture where respect is a core value, where respect simply becomes “the way it is around here. However, I also know that it is going to take a long, long time for respectful behavior to become a norm in most workplaces. In the meantime, I want to do what I can to empower employees, to ensure they realize that they have power, that they can make a choice to speak up rather than put up and shut up about disrespect at work. I challenge them at the end of the session to speak up, to take action to create a more respectful workplace for themselves and those they work with.
One of the factors that stops us from speaking up is fear. We are afraid of what might happen if we say something; things might get worse, we could have a confrontation, we might even jeopardize our job. These are realistic fears. The question is should we allow those fears to rule our behavior, to determine rule our choices? Should we allow fear to justify giving up our power, a decision which inevitably leads down the path to victimization?
Roman philosopher Seneca said “Courage is not lack of fear, but rather it is taking action in the face of, and despite, fear.” This concept has taken on a whole new meaning for me since reading two books by Ayaan Hirsli Ali, Infidel and The Caged Virgin.
Ms. Ali is a Somali born Muslim woman, who fled to the Netherlands to escape an arranged marriage. Her experiences there caused her to start questioning some of the cultural practices she had grown up with: female genital mutilation, the wearing of the hajib and abaya (cloak), the cult of virginity, the justification of gender inequity within some Muslim communities. She started to speak up, to express herself. She became involved in Dutch politics and made a film called Submission part 1 with Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh.
One day in 2004 while riding his bicycle to work, Theo Van Gogh was murdered. A note, addressed to Ms. Ali, was found stabbed into his chest. It warned Ms. Ali that she would be next. Death was promised for those who dared to speak up about the issues that Ms. Ali focuses on.
The consequences of Ms. Ali continuing to speak up are much graver than any faced by my audience members in Speak Up Speak Out. Ms. Ali’s decision to continue to speak up has meant she had to give up her seat as a Dutch politician, and relocate from Europe to the US. She continues to receive death threats.
In spite of all this she continues to speak up, to speak out. In 2007 she founded the AHA Foundation to help protect and defend the rights of women in the West against militant Islam.
After reading Ms. Ali’s books, I felt overwhelmed and engulfed with despair and a sense of hopelessness. As an individual passionate about promoting respect and dignity for all, I was stunned to learn about the realities faced by millions of women on a daily basis. I was saddened and depressed by her stories of bigotry, hatred, abuse of power and suffering. It seemed almost pointless to continue to speak up to promote my vision of respect in light of this reality.
Then it occurred to me that while I only read about Ms. Ali’s experiences, she has lived through them, and yet she still feels hopeful. She makes a choice each day, in spite of what she knows, in spite of the fear she must feel, to continue to speak up, to speak out. In doing so she demonstrates true self respect, while working to promote respect for others.
Ms. Ali truly is a courageous woman and an inspirational figure. She embodies the idea of a hero as expressed by Lisa Hand. “That’s what it takes to be a hero, a little gem of innocence inside you that makes you want to believe that there still exists a right and wrong, that decency will somehow triumph in the end”.
If human rights, gender equality and respect are subjects that interest you, I urge you to read Ms. Ali’s books. We must believe that decency will somehow triumph in the end, and work pro-actively to ensure that happens.
Facing up to the Reality of Gender Inequality
August 25, 2010
Last week while on holidays I saw a post on a LinkedIn group that caught my eye. It was about women, success and work life balance.
What prompted my colleague Lisa Ryan to start the discussion was a comment made by former GM CEO Jack Welch in his keynote address at the annual SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management) convention in July. Mr. Welch said that women who wanted to make it to the top in the corporate world need to stay on a career track. Taking time off to have and raise children will impact a woman’s ability to move into the corporate C suite.
His comments were picked up and discussed by a number of journalists and bloggers. A subsequent article in the NY Times “A Labour Market Punishing to Women” offered support to Mr. Welch’s argument, pointing out that “Women do almost as well as men today as long as they don’t have children.” To support this point, the article highlighted the fact that none of the 3 women recently appointed to the US supreme court have children. Justice Janet Bader Ginsburg does, but she appears to be the exception that proves the rule.
As a working single mother working in the field of human rights this revelation by Mr. Welch is certainly not news to me. The fact that women without children make better career progress than those who do is simply that – a fact. I realized this soon after I had my daughter and told my employer I could not jump on a plane in two hours because I was breastfeeding. Even though the law required my employer to “accommodate” me on the basis of family status, a protected ground in human rights in Canada, I could see from his face that I had made that career limiting move. Yes, there was a woman VP in the organization, however, she did not have any children.
It was no coincidence that within 6 months I quit to start my consulting business. Women start 4 out of 5 new businesses in Canada. We are all familiar with the explosion of Mompreneurs and Mommybloggers. What is it about entrepreneurship that is so alluring to so many women these days? The long hours? The dearth of income? Having to everything on your own? I think not. Rather it is a choice directly related to the fact that when one has one’s own business, one has control over one’s work schedule. If you have to pick up or drop off your kids, if you want to be home when they get home, if you want to be able to participate in any sort of meaningful way in the all too short time they are children, working from home is a much better option than having a conventional job.
I say conventional because in spite of 40 plus years of feminism and the passage of anti-discrimination laws, most workplace cultures have not really changed. Mr. Welch’s comments reflect the current reality. Anyone that wants to get ahead, to become a CEO, has to enter the win/lose, compete to win framework, the bigger, better, faster atmosphere that underlies most North American corporate cultures.
There is still one path to success, and that most often means long hours and putting work first. Law firms are a prime example. For years women have comprised over 50% of law students, and yet very few make partner. The reason – their choice to have children. And while it is true that men don’t have to make that same choice, they must also accept that putting work first is a requirement for corporate success. It is not just women that are losing out. It is everyone, women, men and our children.
So I for one was very happy to learn that Mr. Welch stood up in front of 10,000 HR professionals, most of whom are women, to “tell it like it is.” I am thrilled to see articles, blogs and discussion posts appearing.
Author James Baldwin wrote “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
It is time we stop pretending that equality has been achieved. It hasn’t.
If we want the current reality as described by Mr. Welch to change we have only option – we must embrace our collective power and demand change – real change in our corporate cultures. We need respectful cultures that allow for divergent paths to success, cultures that reflect and support the true diversity in today’s workforce, and are structured to ensure that everyone has an equal chance for success.
Responding to Hate with Respect
September 15, 2010
Last week, like many of you, I watched in horror and disbelief as the Reverend Terry Jones unveiled his plan to mark the 9th anniversary of 9/11 by burning the Quran, the holy book of millions of Muslims.
The Reverend stated that his intention was to “stand up” to radical Islam. While he didn’t end up burning any books, his blatant disrespect served to empower that same radical element while inspiring anger and hatred, effectively encouraging Muslims to throw their support behind those he had intended to intimidate. Nicely done, Reverend Jones.
The one bright spot in this travesty came from Muslim Canadian Atif Malik. In response to Reverend Jones action to promote divisiveness and hatred, Mr. Malik started a Facebook page called Respect the Bible Day. He chose October 11 to mark the event and is inviting followers to post passages from both the Quran and the Bible to highlight the similarities that exist between Muslims and Christians.
Mr. Malik chose to respond to intolerance and disrespect with an action to promote tolerance and respect. That choice has empowered the millions of Muslims and Christians, as well as Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and others who would prefer to focus on what we share, rather than on what separates us. He rekindled the flame of hope for all of us who would prefer to speak up and engage in dialogue for friendship and peace.
If we are to survive as a species, we must shift from hatred to love, from intolerance to tolerance, from disrespect to respect. An important first step is for us to get to know one another, to understand our similarities as well as our differences. Please check out the Respect the Bible Day page. I learned a lot from reading the many posts and am confident you will too.
Respect, Success and the Cult of Busyness
October 6, 2010
Yesterday I was listening to an interview with a very accomplished and successful female entrepreneur. She is a prolific writer, having produced 2 books in one year for Wiley Press, in addition to her weekly e-news, articles, and blog.
The interviewer asked her how she manages to produce that amount of content, given the fact that in addition to running her business, she is a wife and parent of 2 teenagers. Her response was that she is very disciplined and gets up to write every day from 4 am to 7 am.
Now math may not be my strong suit, but unless she is going to bed at 10 and is asleep by 10:01, she is getting considerably less than 6 hours of sleep a night, never mind the 8 hours we are supposed to be striving for.
I have to tell you that I am starting to see a trend here. Sleep deprivation seem to be becoming the strategy of choice for increasing numbers of us that strive to be successful.
Some months ago I was talking to a very accomplished and brilliant friend of mine. She was sharing news about a great new research opportunity. The only concern was how she was going to add this in to the mix of her 3 other full and part time jobs, which did not include the other job that we don’t really identify as a job: parenting 2 kids, one of whom is just 3 years old. “Well”, she said, “I can do it if I just give up sleeping.” We both laughed.
Not long after that, I was reading an article in the University of Toronto alumni magazine featuring a professor that had just released a new book prompted by the birth of her son. When asked how she was managing work, writing a book and being a new parent her response was that she was able to get by on only 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night. Hmmm.
Later that week I was at a Women’s Executive Network luncheon. I was awed as I listened to the introductions of the very distinguished group of women on the panel. Afterwards a friend introduced me to one panel member and I commented on how impressive her accomplishments were. My friend added, “and she has 2 kids under 5.” Ok, I’ll bite. How do you manage? I asked her. She smiled and said, I am lucky, I only need about 4 hours of sleep a night.
I don’t know about you, but I think I am starting to see a trend here.
Given that I am interested in leading a values based life, I have to ask whether or not the decision to give up sleep in order to achieve success aligns with self-respect. Yes, I realize it is a choice, but it is a choice that increasing numbers of us feel compelled to make in order to achieve success by today’s standards, which are getting higher by the second.
Never mind six figures, we need to be striving for 7. Never mind authoring a book, we have to be tweeting, blogging, publishing articles, doing videos for Youtube, networking both socially and in person while getting our next book ready for publication, making sure to have an e-book as well, and serving our clients or doing our job superlatively. We should be volunteering, serving on boards, supporting charitable organizations, eating right and staying fit.
The bar keeps getting higher and we simply accept that as a given. Bigger better best has no limits. If we have kids, chances are they are in a myriad of activities which need to be organized. The transportation alone can be a full time job if you have more than one offspring.
When I was growing up in Quebec, everything was closed on Sunday. I remember when shopping ended at 6 most nights. I remember a time when I did not have a computer, or even an answering machine at home. Yes, I love the convenience of all night shopping or being able to answer emails, work or connect with friends at 4 in the morning, but the reality is that nowadays nothing ever stops. We go on holidays with our PDA’s. The pressure on us to be more productive, to do more, to achieve more is building without an end in sight. Is it any wonder so many of us are choosing to forgo sleep in an effort to squeeze just a bit more into our already overcrowded lives?
This morning I was talking to a client who asked me if I thought that incivility and disrespect were increasing in workplaces. It seems to be everywhere nowadays, she commented. It didn’t used to be like this.
Should we be surprised that disrespectful behaviours like bullying are out of control? I think not.
We are all trying to do more with less. We are all hearing that if we only have a positive attitude we can accomplish our goals. If we are not succeeding, we have no one to blame but ourselves. People are working longer, doing more, becoming angry, anxious, stressed out and in all likelihood sleep deprived. Only no one is talking about why.
Believe me, I am very achievement oriented. I want to be successful. I want to support those in my life to be successful. But at some point I think we have to start talking about how we define success in within the cult of busyness that is now our societal norm.
Let’s start talking about why increasing numbers of us are willing to give up sleeping so that we can achieve success. Let’s start looking at the demands placed upon us by the cult of busyness that has taken a firm hold in society and start asking questions about how this frantic pace aligns with our values.
We cannot simply keep adding to the list of what it takes to be successful. We cannot continue to keep setting the bar higher. At some point we are going to break or burst. I for one don’t want to be around to witness that.
The Triumph of Hope: Miracle of the Chilean Miners
October 15, 2010
When I was a kid, I used to love to read fairy tales. Like many of us, I became hooked on the possibility of a happy ending, of living “happily ever after.”
Nowadays it is getting harder and harder to believe in that possibility. We are bombarded with bad news. Hatred, intolerance and disrespect are increasing, as is the piece of the economic pie accessed by the richest 1%. On September 29th, the Cranick family of Obion County, Tennessee watched their house burn down, along with three dogs and a cat. Oh they called 911, however, because they had failed to pay the $75.00 fee, the local fire department refused to turn on the hoses.
Is it any wonder then, that the world has been transfixed by the story of the Chilean miners who were all successfully rescued on Wednesday after having spent 69 days underground?
This has been cause for celebration among scores of individuals who didn’t even know where Chile was before this all began. What is it about this event that has gotten everyone so engaged?
I think it is very simply, the concrete evidence of the possibility of a happy ending. The miners worked together to stay alive, as did scientists, business people and doctors from various countries. This spirit of collaboration demonstrated the best of our common humanity.
Those on the ground refused to give up hope for a successful outcome. That hope was rewarded when the last miner emerged, safe and triumphant. A cause for celebration; not just in Chile but around the world. Something positive to focus on for a change.
It got me thinking about the power of hope and the importance of celebration and collaboration, both our lives and in our workplaces. There is a point in the conflict cycle at which people simply give up hope. They lose the ability to believe in a happy ending. In cases of bullying that is often the point at which individuals turn to violence, often harming themselves and/ or others. The loss of hope has tragic consequences for us as humans.
As a result of the miracle of the miners, many of us are feeling slightly more hopeful this week. If we want to build that sense of hope and optimism, we need to reconnect and act in alignment with the values that contributed to this outcome – respect, empathy, compassion, and collaboration. These are the qualities we need, both in our lives and our workplaces to ensure that the happy endings can become the norm rather than the exception in our lives.
Disrespect on Display
October 19, 2010
I was watching CNN briefly this morning and saw a feature about the latest trend in campaign politics. It seems that the way to win votes these days is by catching your opponent doing or saying potentially damaging or embarrassing, and then using the video as the basis for your own campaign ad. Kind of like political candid camera.
Now I get the fact that this is politics and it is all about winning votes. However, my mind jumped almost immediately to the recent suicide of 18 year old Tyler Clementi. Mr. Clementi jumped off the George Washington bridge after a video of him having sex with another man was filmed by two of his fellow students at Rutgers University and then posted to the internet.
I don’t think we have to stretch very far to figure out what may have influenced those university students to engage in such obviously disrespectful and cruel behaviour. I mean let’s face it, public humiliation is a new fad. Catch someone doing something potentially embarrassing, humiliating or inappropriate and then post it to You Tube. The impact this might have on the individual involved, the issue of potential harm, somehow never seems to enter the equation.
You can find scores of disrespectful, disturbing videos on line these days. Girl to girl violence is immensely popular. Last month here in British Columbia a gang rape of a 16 year old girl at a rave was captured on video and posted on line.
Those of you that read these posts regularly know that I am all about values, and this kind of behaviour does not flow from any of the values that I believe must be promoted either in society or in a workplace. This phenomenon is taking the damaging effects of public humiliation and gossip to a whole new level. How have we “evolved” to the point where we think this kind of behavior is acceptable?
We are all familiar with the phrase “lead by example.” When our leaders, or those who aspire to become our leaders, employ disrespectful strategies to boost their own power and achieve their goals, the result is an increase in acceptance and adoption of disrespectful behaviours.
The huge increase we are witnessing in bullying and harassment both in our schools and our workplaces is not occurring in isolation. As I argue in Road to Respect, culture influences and shapes human behavior. Values are the foundation of culture.
We all benefit when we actively work to promote the values of respect, empathy and collaboration that we recently saw expressed in the rescue of the Chilean miners. Personally, I would rather watch more videos that display that aspect of our humanity. What about you?
Stress, change and power
November 2, 2010
This past weekend 3 colleagues forwarded the first in a five part series the Globe & Mail is doing this week on work life balance.
The first article was entitled Stress: Public Health Enemy No. 1?
I don’t think it comes as a surprise to any of us that stress in our society is on the rise. I blogged about work life balance and stress a couple of weeks back in my post Respect, Success and the Cult of Busyness.
One of the colleagues that contacted me about the article raised an interesting question. He framed it as a chicken and egg scenario. If, as per the Globe article, workers are stressed out due to their employment conditions, whose responsibility is it to change that, the employer or the employee?
An interesting question, to be sure. One of the presentations I developed after Road to Respect: Path to Profit came out is called Speak Up: Speak Out – Personal Power and Respect in the Workplace. I developed that presentation because of behaviour I have experienced countless times in my work; the reluctance of most of us to take action when something happens to us at work that bothers us. Whatever workplace policies may be in place, I find that it is culture that dictates the choices individuals make in the workplace.
Theoretically, of course, it is the employer that is responsible for creating the culture. As I argue in Road to Respect, if an employer works strategically, deliberately and pro-actively to create a truly respectful environment, a whole host of potential workplace stressors would be eliminated.
That said however, even when an employer decides to embark on culture change, it can take months, sometimes many months, for a truly respectful culture to be created. And what about those employers that simply don’t spend much time thinking about culture, or those that are not willing to undertake what is required to accomplish culture change. Should employees in those workplaces simply accept the status quo and resign themselves to working in a stressful environment that is bad for their health? Should we all throw up our hands and say this is just how it is, nothing I can do?
The answer to that must be an emphatic no. This is why I developed Speak Up: Speak Out. I want to raise awareness about options, about personal power and the choices we make. I want my audiences to stop travelling on the path of passivity, and victimization, I want them to move out of a community of anger, negativity and discontentment.
As the Globe article highlights, one of the major causes of stress is a feeling of lack of control. One of the most effective ways for us to feel more in control is to start with the simple realization that whatever is going on, we still have a choice – the choice as to how we respond to all of these potentially stressful events in our lives. Making a choice to speak up is a critical first step to reducing stress.
I understand that these days, economic conditions being what they are, many more of us are tempted to put up and shut up. We don’t want to lose our jobs.
Hey, I get that. I am a single parent, running my own business. If I don’t generate income, my daughter doesn’t eat. Well, ok a slight exaggeration but you get my point.
Then again, if I end up dying of a heart attack due to stress, my daughter would lose more than a meal ticket. Yes I need an income. The question is at what cost.
When we make a choice to put up and shut up with disrespect or abuse, when we make a choice to agree to more work when we already have too much on our plate, when we simply accept the status quo of everyone doing more with less, taking on more without an end in sight, we are active participants in increasing our stress levels and damaging our health.
I think we need both the chicken and the egg involved if we are going to solve this problem. We can start by appreciating that we can gain control and reduce stress when we exercise our power to choose. We can choose to talk with others on our team, to raise the issue in our workplaces in a respectful manner so that we can get others talking about it. If our employer is not yet thinking about this issue, we can take respectful action to help start the conversation.
We can think about what small things we can do to reduce stress in our lives. We can give ourselves permission to get off the treadmill. It may be as simple as turning off the blackberry or the computer, being disciplined about getting outside and exercising, taking the risk to say no, or finding time to put fun back into our lives.
Someone once told me that no one lies on their death bed and says I wish I had spent more time at work.
I could easily be in my office 24/7. I have done that. What stopped me was overhearing my daughter on the phone one day talking to a relative back east, saying “All my Mom ever does these days is work.”
I thought I was working so hard for her, to give her the things she needs. What she really needs is me.
The way I see it, it is my responsibility to be both successful and healthy. For that to happen I need to continue to make choices that will support those outcomes.
And on that note, although I have work that to complete, I am heading out into the sunshine for a walk. Care to join me?
Lesson in Conflict from Oprah and Whoppi.
November 16, 2010
One of my most popular presentations is called Speak UP: Speak Out – Personal Power and Respect in the Workplace. I designed that session as a response to something I have consistently encountered in my consulting practice – the reluctance of many of us, most particularly those of us that check the female box on a census form, to speak up when we have a conflict or an issue at work.
Research has consistently shown that over 95% of all conflicts can be resolved quickly and locally as long as someone involved makes a decision to say something – to approach the other individual and respectfully say hey, here’s what I have noticed, here’s what I am feeling. How about we talk about this?
But the fact is that most of us don’t do that. Instead we avoid. Our fear of whatever; having a confrontation, making things worse, finding out that the other person might not like us, or that we might have in fact done something to upset them, keeps us quiet.
We live in hope that things will resolve on their own, but of course that seldom happens.
Well ladies, takes heart. We are not alone. Even those that we would imagine have it all together, those that are confident, successful and powerful struggle with this issue.
We learned this yesterday when Oprah Winfrey had a Colour Purple reunion show. Apparently Oprah and Whoopi Goldberg, who worked together on that film 25 years ago, had not spoken in over 20 years. The reason? Well, as they discovered this past summer when they bumped into each other in Tyler Perry’s kitchen, each thought the other was mad at her. Neither knew why, and neither took the opportunity to find out.
The good news is that for the last 20 years although they both work in the same industry, Oprah and Whoopi have not had to work together. However, had they chosen to talk to each other before yesterday, who knows what they might have created together. We will never know because of the fact that fear locked them into a conflict that was in fact a non-issue.
At the end of the segment Oprah advises her audience not to make the same choice she did. “If you have someone that you think is upset with you or you are upset with them, you should just call them.”
Exactly what I advise my audiences to do in Speak Up: Speak Out.
Conflicts are happening every day in our workplaces. They are affecting our relationships, our teams, our productivity and our personal happiness. They do not, however, have to last for 20 years. Conflict does not have to turn into an ongoing dispute that creates unhappiness, divisiveness and toxicity in our workplaces.
It can be resolved. As we and millions of other witnessed yesterday, relationships can be repaired and restored. In fact, the decision to face our fear and have that conversation can often strengthen and improve workplace relationships.
So next time you think someone is mad at you, remember Whoopi and Oprah. Don’t let fear stop you. Choose to speak up.
Power and Bullying in Politics – Should We Really Be Surprised?
November 23, 2010
Last week former BC Liberal Minister of the Environment Bill Bennett was fired from the liberal caucus, but not because of anything he did that was actually related to his job or job duties He contends that he was fired because he expressed his opinion. He said that since Premier Gordon Campbell had announced his intention to resign as party leader, it was in the best interest of both the party and the electorate that he leave sooner rather than later.
According to Mr. Campbell the loss of his job caused Mr. Bennett to become so distraught, he made up all kinds of allegations. He called the Premier a bully. Said he is abusive. Not a nice guy to work for. He makes people cry. Alleged that on another occasion when he questioned the Premier, Mr. Campbell took him out behind the barn and screamed at him, getting so angry that spittle flew from his mouth and covered Mr. Bennett’s cheek.
Needless to say all the other cabinet ministers are rallying to Mr. Campbell’s defence. CKNW radio host and former Deputy Premier Christy Clark, who Mr. Bennett cited as one of three extraordinarily capable women who he claims have left politics due to the Mr. Campbell’s leadership style, said that while she found Mr. Campbell to be “ a very, very tough guy to work for” and that “you have to have a thick skin to survive,” she would not characterize him using any of the same words Mr. Bennett did.
As usual in cases like this, it is hard to know where the truth lies. That said, however, the fact is that bullying is recognized as a power based behaviour. It is defined as the assertion of power through aggression.
And let’s face it. Mr. Campbell has been in a position of power for a very long time. He has been in charge in this province for almost 10 years. It was Machiavelli who first documented the relationship between power, disrespect and abuse in his book The Prince: “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
When I speak to individuals I stress that when it comes to workplace bullying, you often have to choose to meet power with power. If the CEO is bullying, realistically who is going to stop him/her? Absent a Board of Directors that would know what was really going on in the workplace, something that in my experience is highly unlikely, that CEO will continue to bully, simply because he/she can. Power and accountability are also closely related.
Should we be surprised that no one else is standing up to support what Mr. Bennett is saying? I think not. Who else is going to risk the fallout? It is a well-established fact that one thing that perpetuates bullying is the fear that the behaviour creates in everyone that witnesses it. Not many individuals have the courage to stand up to a powerful individual that has the ability to directly affect one’s livelihood, reputation and well-being.
In a recent interview for the Globe and Mail, former Federal MP Belinda Stronach said that women are referred to as “whores” and “bitches” in the House of Commons. Like countless employees in a myriad of different workplaces, Ms. Stonach is describing a cultural norm. Disrespect is too often the status quo, “the way it is around here,” something we have to put up with to remain employed. The coping technique is to develop a “thick skin.” The notion of speaking up is much too fraught with danger and risk to be considered. The bully is empowered and the abuse continues.
It is interesting in all of this to note that the reason that Mr. Campbell has chosen to resign is because his popularity has plummeted since the introduction of the HST in BC this past June. As I discussed in an earlier post, (July 13th, The Harm in the Harmonized Sales Tax) it was not even so much the tax itself, but the fact that Mr. Campbell made a campaign promise not to introduce this tax that really bothered me. It may not be spittle in my face, but it sure felt like out and out disregard and disrespect, never mind a lack of honesty or integrity.
What is relevant in this context is that only reason he was able to do such an about face and bring in the unpopular tax is the same reason he was able to fire Mr. Bennett. He has the power.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t help thinking about that old expression, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. I just read an article in the NY Times “The Playground is Getting Tougher,” about how girl bullying is starting in kindergarten. Bullying is rampant in our society. Is it really that much of a stretch to think that there might be some of it going on in politics?
I believe it is much more realistic to acknowledge that in all likelihood, power based and potentially disrespectful behaviour is the norm in politics rather than the exception? What do you think?
The Power of Recognition
December 2, 2010
Yesterday I spent a good deal of my day struggling with an article for my monthly client e-newsletter. I had what I thought was a good idea. However, as sometimes happens, the more I wrote, the less I the more I wrote, the less I progressed. By about 4 pm I was feeling quite frustrated and discouraged.
Now I don’t know about you, but at times like those it is easy for that demon of doubt and negativity to capture my attention. Why am I struggling with this? I have so much else to do. I send these out into cyberspace every month, and while I always get a few comments, at the end of the day does anyone really care? Would they even know the difference if these monthly reminders of the importance of respect at work stopped coming into their inboxes?
I kid you not, but within 5 minutes my phone rang. It was a former colleague from my airlines days, a very accomplished professional I have always respected and admired, who I had contacted earlier looking for some information for a client. He gave me the information I had requested and then asked how things were going. “Fine” I lied. Then to my great surprise he said “I read your articles every month. Whenever they come in, my wife always makes sure to let me know. You obviously put a lot of thought into them.”
I put down the phone elated, completely renewed and inspired. That small piece of positive feedback; one person that I respect and admire telling me that my work matters to him, was all I needed to reconnect to my purpose and get back to writing.
Last week I was meeting with an HR professional who was asking about ideas for non-monetary recognition. The company had traditionally given bonuses to recognize performance. This year, economic times being what they are, they were not in a position to do that.
Being a single parent and sole earner running my own business, I very much understand the importance of financial compensation. However, study after study has shown that more money does not necessarily mean better performance. Nor does it build loyalty and allegiance to an organization.
Rather it is the daily practice of recognition – the thank you’s, great job, we couldn’t have gotten here without your input, you are a valued member of this team – that inspire many of us to want to continue making an effort. Let’s face it, whatever our job, task or profession, we want to know that what we are doing matters. We all want to know that others appreciate the effort we make. And unless someone is doing that on a regular basis, chances are we won’t feel valued or appreciated, which often translates to a lack of motivation and the inevitable drop in productivity.
Letting a colleague or team member know that their work matters costs nothing, but can reap great benefits, not only for your workplace relationships but for your organizational bottom line. It is one simple way to demonstrate respect, to translate that value into action so that it becomes a behavioural norm.
How does your organization recognize good work? What workplace practices are in place to ensure that employees know when they are succeeding, and that their contribution is making a difference? How often do they get positive, affirming feedback? Have they had an opportunity to let you know what meaningful recognition would look like to them?
Now is the time to start asking these kinds of questions in your workplace. Every organization should be working to retain and motivate talent. Why not harness the power of recognition to assist your organization in becoming the respectful workplace great employees love to work in.